Monday, February 10, 2014

James's birds of the air quilt finished

The quilt that tops this blog is one I began for my grandson James shortly after learning that our daughter was pregnant, before I even knew if he was a boy or girl, which was about two and a half years ago. I pieced it by machine with fabric I had on hand in my stash and some I bought in the colors Lesley planned for his room: robin's egg blue and tan. Then I began the quilting stitches by hand.

hand stitches

I love how hand stitching looks, and I love doing it. I got almost half way done with it, using a heart template. I marked the pattern on the quilt with the blue pen, which disappears after a few days or with washing.

heart template for quilting

But I have had carpal tunnel syndrome, and then arthritis, and so hand quilting became too much. The quilt sat in my room where I could touch and admire the colors and patterns, but not finish it. I was opposed to machine quilting. This was because I didn't think it looked as nice as hand stitches, and because I knew there were issues with the fabric bunching. I also have an old fashioned sense of time, believing that the longer something takes, the greater its value.

Eventually, after James turned two in January, and his brother's arrival approached (due February 20), I felt the need to complete James's quilt before starting one for his brother. I ordered a free motion sewing foot and practiced on scraps with top, batting and back, and felt ready to finish James's flying geese quilt with the machine.

The machine stitches are far from perfect. But when you look at the quilt from a distance, you really can't tell the difference. I hope I'll improve with practice.

In the photo below you can see the hand stitches on the right and the machine stitches on the left. I tried to follow hearts at least abstractly, not taking time to draw the template on the rest of the quilt, since I didn't know how easy it would be to follow the lines anyway!

machine stitches on the left, hand stitches on the right

I made continuous bias tape (instructions here) with one of the fabrics in the quilt. I made far more than I needed.

I sewed the binding first onto the back side of the quilt. Then I carefully folded over the edge and sewed it from the front, staying close to the original row of stitches on the back. There is a wonderful YouTube tutorial for sewing binding onto a quilt here.

In the photo above, you can see the variations in stitch length using the free motion quilt. If you go too slow, the stitches are too long. If you go too fast, the stitches are too short. You can also see here where I caught the fabric twice and bunched it with the machine! This is the only place I did this on the front, though there is a rather egregious instance of bunching on the back. I couldn't bear to take it out, which would have taken hours. When I told James's mommy about it, she told me that in art school, her weaving instructor told her that Native Americans said that mistakes in their crafts are where the soul resides. O! I do like thinking of my soul residing in that bunched up fabric in James's quilt.

By the way, I wore garden gloves to control the fabric, otherwise my fingers would have just slipped and slid along. I had to wash them first.

The whole quilt measures about 62 x 42". Though this photo is not straight, the quilt is.

I call it "birds of the air"
but it is traditionally called "flying geese"
James really likes it. When I gave it to him yesterday, he kept lying down on it, saying "James sleep."

James being held by grammy's love

The thing is, I still prefer hand stitched quilting. But the quilt is done! And James can enjoy it now.


  1. Oh, Ruth! Your soul is in every square inch of this quilt and in ALL the stitches sewn by hand AND machine. It is true what Lesley says about Native American art and their "mistakes," done also on purpose since no one is perfect but the Great Spirit. Years ago when I worked on the Cherokee language with live informants in Oklahoma, I watched them make their beaded art...and always looked for the one bead that was "mistaken." It's a beautiful sentiment.

    And now James enjoys his quilt in a way that is even more precious because he seems to "get" it...and therefore the memory of it feels deeper and more special. Thank you for sharing all of this!

    1. Boots, I love that you experienced the NA tradition firsthand. If I knew about it, I'd forgotten. I did know that the Amish do the same, because "only God is perfect."

      You know, I had not thought of the fact that, at least with this first quilt for a grandchild, he is old enough to get it, and that is pretty great. Thank you for that thought!

  2. oh Ruth. I wish we could sit and chat in real life. This. yes. everything . all of it. And you are crazy talented and driven and full of love and art ...And I wanted to add, just because, whether it matters to you my friend or not, that I have been envious in a loving way of your ability to rise so early because as self-disciplined as I try to be I still have/had all the kids at home and a husband who usually is not so my days typically don't end until midnight or so and not by my choice. But of late? There is hope, finally. I have a room of my own and while my husband travels more, I have only my youngest really to care for past a desired bedtime and so , so , I do think it is time. xo . Also. You are loved xo

    1. Deb, I would love to sit and chat, too. And how. Please understand that I began rising early because of menopause and night sweats. Insomnia was common, and since I was wide awake, I just got up at 3 or 4. I would never have known otherwise how wonderful this time of day can be. I had only experienced what John D Blase wrote on his Facebook wall that you shared with me, that vulnerable time of feeling, when all the worst fears roll in. Now the hot flashes are mostly gone, and the insomnia is gone too (thank goodness), but I still love to rise at 4, so that I have quiet solitude here in the dark before I go to work. It is so important, and so I'm glad you have made a room of your own. It isn't always easy to establish that place and special hour for solitude, but I'm sure you can make it happen.

      Thank you, immensely, for your love and sweetness. You are loved, very loved, too.

  3. you write of the photograph of james and the quilt that he is held by grammy's love but i was already thinking that of your gaze. this is perhaps the most lovely photograph of you that i have seen. you are so incredibly soft. your neck is exposed but so much more than your neck is exposed))))

    the quilt. is. beautiful. and important.

    yesterday i made pies for my children, a small raspberry and a large blueberry pie. i knew in terms of idea what it meant to make something for them to consume and i think they know when i bake for them it is to demonstrate my love, but to truly know ...

    two nights ago my son laid on my bed and i could see the blood in his neck move, carry his life onward - that is why you quilt and that is why i bake.

    gorgeous living)))


    1. Erin, I love that you came here. In some way, maybe this is the most important blog I've had, because yes my love is exposed. You see this, and I thank you for that seeing. This love we do, live, give, well it expands our own understanding of this being. I wonder sometimes how, what I will do with two new grandbabies. Where will the love come from, where the time? But here in this point before they arrive, I believe that I will expand, and the giving will complete something that needs to be lived.

      A strange thing came to me the other night in a state of semi-consciousness. I felt that I, in myself, could complete everything I encountered. I am exploring this, trying to live it and see if it holds. So far, it does. For I choose, I choose to complete all things within myself that I encounter. Where there is sadness, I meet the sadness and give joy. And the opposite is also true. And where there is an absence of love, I can give compassion. Even just my feeling it makes it complete, I feel.